The Ugly Side of My Tandem Feeding Journey (and a sanity check for the exhausted mom)
I breastfed my eldest, Inio, for 2.5 years. Wow. I just smiled while I wrote that. What pride it brings because of all I went through. While it was a beautiful journey for the most part, there was a dark, awful, ugly stage that we went through, and I'm just so grateful to God that we survived it. I've always wanted to write about this, but never felt ready because of all the trauma and bad memories it brings, but I'm finally ready to share this story with you today.
Inio was born in February of 2019. We were absolutely over the moon to be new parents! Like every new mom, I had goals, and desires in my early parenting journey. One of my many desires was to breastfeed Inio for as long as he wanted to, straight from the breast, AT LEAST til he turned 2. So when we finally got over the difficult learning curve in the first few months, we were pretty much smooth sailing.
First latch with Inio
Getting the hang of breastfeeding
Starting solids, Inio's weight loss, my pregnancy
Until he hit 6 months, that is, and he did not seem to really be so interested in food. He did eat, yes, but he did not seem to be eating enough. As the months progressed, my son seemed to get thinner. And everyone took notice.
My saving grace was my milk. "Don't worry so much, he's getting all he needs from you!" That was what they all told me. And it gave me peace. I went back to this every time we had a bad eating day... He's getting all he needs from me. Then I got pregnant with Bianco in March 2020. Oh what joy! My husband and I were ecstatic because we wanted to give Inio a sibling close to him in age. Inio had just turned 1 at this point. But even while pregnant, I kept on nursing Inio because he needed me. He needed my milk.
And then my milk started to dry up. And it racked me with guilt. He needs my milk, it's his saving grace, it's my only saving grace, but I can't even give it to him. And that guilt (but not just guilt, please don't be mistaken. I believe fully in the power of breastfeeding) made me keep him on the breast. And I wanted to keep nursing him so when my milk came in, he would be able to catch up.
The beginning of my aversion 7 months pregnant and I began to feel this intense agitation when he latched. It was so uncomfortable, especially at night. That agitation made me want to forcibly remove him from my breast, and I couldn't seem to control this urge. Just 10 seconds of his latching made me want to unlatch him. So every time he would latch, I would take him off, as he cried and screamed for my breast. Then I'd latch him again... 10 seconds, and I'd take him off. I even had to count down in my head, "JUST 10 SECONDS" but sometimes I couldn't even make it to 10. Embarrassingly, there were moments of severe frustration, I would scream, "just go to sleep!!!" And it scared the poor baby. I became a scary mommy, and I didn't like it. It made me sob. I just couldn't help it. After several episodes of this, I really had to teach him how to put himself to sleep, whereas he would typically need to nurse to go to dreamland. (I didn't know at the time that this was an actual method, but I would just keep on unlatching him every time he'd latch. Eventually he'd get tired, and go to sleep on his own.)
And I asked my friend who was also tandem feeding if it was normal. She told me there's a medical term for it: Breastfeeding Aversion Aggression. It usually happens when breastfeeding while pregnant, or tandem feeding (or both), and may even happen to any breastfeeding mom, it turns out. I Googled it, and it turns out it's a phenomenon that hasn't been widely studied. Science says it's a hormonal thing, but a theory suggests that this is nature's way of signaling to a mother to reserve the milk for the youngling and enough energy for the mama. Isn't mother nature amazing? I also read that it may get worse once the baby is born, but it may also get better. The optimist in me only saw IT MAY GET BETTER. So Inio and I kept on.
Tandem feeding: the beginning of the end I finally gave birth to my dear Bianco in December 2020. At this point, Inio was 3 months from turning 2. Thanks to Inio nursing throughout my pregnancy, my milk was abundant, very rich, and came in right away. Both of them benefitted incredibly from it.
At Bianco's birth: Inio realizing he had to share mama's boobs
Bianco ballooned so quickly because of my milk, and Inio... Oh my son. He quickly gained 3lbs in just 2 months, as he approached 2 years old, when he only gained that same amount (3lb) between turning 1 til Bianco's birth. Can you imagine?
Bianco at 1 month old
Inio's cheeks finally filling in 1 month after his brother was born
Inio finally looking healthy and vibrant as he turned 2
What else did that tell me except INIO NEEDED MY MILK. He grew! He gained weight quickly! His cheeks filled in! I was so happy with the results. But I was suffering every single day. The Breastfeeding Aversion Aggression, that I hoped would dissipate, got worse. It was so, so bad that I would see VIOLENT RED every time he would feed. The sensation was toe curling -- no, not pain -- but intense, insane discomfort. I wished it was pain. The pain of nursing for the first time was more tolerable than this. I wished it to be pain so much that every time I would experience that discomfort I would hurt myself. I would pinch myself, hit myself on the head, pull my own hair, and more things I'm too embarrassed to write down here.
And the self-infliction was even forgivable, it was my behavior toward Inio that was not. My relationship with Inio at that time made (and still makes) me full of sadness, anger and regret. I still don't know if I've forgiven myself for this. I'm so, so embarrassed to say that every time he would latch, at the moment I couldn't stand the feeling anymore, I would feel that urge to throw him off from my breast. And I would. I'd unlatch him quickly, I would sometimes scream at him at the frustration, I'd scream and cry into a pillow to let it all out, and I would sometimes even pinch him (I do hope it was just lightly). I don't know what would come over me. I can't even find the words to explain it, but I wouldn't be myself. I became lost in another person. That sensation I felt was so overpowering, that I couldn't control it. I couldn't control myself. Then right after that episode, I'd drown in my guilt. I spent so many moments crying, sobbing. Inio and I cried together almost every day, and it was all my fault. For the first time in my life, I felt really depressed. My husband had to talk me down while I sobbed, lying down on the floor, screaming, "I'm such a bad mom, I'm such a bad mom!" with our toddler in the other room screaming and crying, too.
Exhausted, trying to find a rhythm to help both kids (entirely dependent on nursing to sleep) go to sleep. Nursing Inio after a loud, long cry wailing for me while I was nursing Bianco, with Bianco finally asleep
But I still couldn't shake that guilt. Those screaming episodes were a cry for help, and my family saw it. They kept telling me to please, please wean him, for my sake and his. But how could I? How could I when he was finally growing when my milk came in? How could I when, despite those severe episodes, I still somehow treasured them? How could I when nursing was the only way he knew how to take a nap? How could I when, during this pandemic, experts said that breastmilk was the best form of protection for my babies? And that I could pass on antibodies from my vaccination (which I hoped at the time came sooner)? How could I take so much away from him just because I was feeling this aversion toward him? How could I do that to my baby? He was just a baby.
But I also knew I needed to wean him soon. This aversion made it impossible for me to enjoy my kids. It made me miserable. It painted our whole household grey when it should've been full of colour. My misery spilled over to our everyday -- I was so impatient, I so easily snapped at my husband, and many times, I couldn't find the energy or joy to be there for Inio and be the mom he deserved. For months, it was as a push and pull of two guilts -- the guilt to keep on breastfeeding and the guilt because of breastfeeding. No matter what I seemed end up deciding, either way, there was no consolation, only guilt. Then one day, crying to myself, I thought, "what kind of a mom am I? Do I want to be a scary mommy? An angry mommy? A mommy always on her phone, trying to escape this reality?"
As I reflected on my situation, I realized that my kids NEED a happy and present mom. Because I felt like I was giving so much, too much, of myself breastfeeding, I slacked off in other areas, and gave myself a pass. I'm breastfeeding anyway... who cares if I binge watch Bridgerton while Inio plays by himself? But Inio needed a happy, patient, present, functioning mom more than he needed my milk. I wanted to be able to enjoy him, without dreading the next looming nursing session.
Trying to make it look easy, but it was exactly the opposite
Realizing what I needed to do
When I finally came to terms with this, I gave myself a good cry. I was heartbroken that my breastfeeding journey with Inio had to come to an end -- that I needed to wean him before he was ready, which was never my plan when I started breastfeeding him. Breastfeeding Inio was so much more than the milk I gave him. It was EVERYTHING. It was nourishment, comfort, and love. It was protection, sweetness, and our unique connection. I was heartbroken and deathly afraid to feel that feeling of not being needed, especially by my firstborn. I wanted to still be able to give him that everything. But at this point, I was already so, so drained, literally and figuratively. I couldn't give Inio more than my milk. I couldn't be anything else anymore. So the desire to be the mom my son needed outweighed my desire to feel needed. And rightly so. Too much of what seemed to be "selflessness", at the expense of my happiness, sanity, and overall well being wasn't selflessness at all. At this point, it seemed like selfishness in the guise of selflessness. It was more selfish of me now to keep breastfeeding Inio just because of that feeling of guilt and that desire to be able to give him everything. The decision to wean him was more selfless, because I would be able to give him more facets of myself in that way. You can't pour from an empty cup, right? My breasts were full, yes, but my cups of energy, sanity, and happiness were running on empty. How could I be a good mom if I was running on empty?
Exhaustion like I've never known before
So the weaning process started. We did ginger and calamansi on the nipples, which worked at first, but he would keep trying and persisting. But what really worked for us was my "pretending" that I was hurt (I try to think I wasn't pretending because I was really was hurting, in another sense). And my loving, innocent son did not want to cause me pain. So, eventually, when he realized that his action of suckling hurt his mama, he stopped. It wasn't immediate, but he stopped. How selfless, right? It was because he did not want to hurt me that he stopped breastfeeding, which was his whole life thus far. It must have been so much harder for him than it was for me, but he stopped. For me. Oh, how much we learn of love from a child.
And when he weaned, almost instantly, I was changed. I had more energy to really play with him. I was able to show him more ways I loved him, more than just the warmth of my body, and the nourishment it gave him. I held his hand more, spent more time stroking his head, looked more deeply into his eyes, said "I love you" more times in a day than I can count... We were both better and happier for it. Thank God we did it. Thank God I realized what needed to end for something more beautiful to begin. And I was wrong. Inio still needs me for so many things -- for my warmth and softness, still, to go to sleep, for my gentle hands on his face, for my constant reassurance each time he is hurt... Being a mom doesn't stop when Breastfeeding does. Our children will always need their mamas, one way or another.
A sanity check for you
So, dear Mama, thank you for reading our story. Quick sanity check: how are you in your breastfeeding journey now? Are you still fully enjoying it? Are you still a happy mom despite and because of it? But if, at this point in your breastfeeding journey like me, you: 1. Feel so drained beyond function; 3. Find yourself experiencing bouts of BAA, and even depression; 4. Constantly feel like a bad mom; 5. Feel like breastfeeding is getting in the way of enjoying your kids; 6. Feel like you are doing the "bare minimum" in other areas and justifying it because you're breastfeeding anyway... It's time to reassess if it's still worth it. Please do. Like I said earlier, your kids need a happy and present Mom more than they need your milk. And if you feel heartbroken about realizing you need to wean, send me a message. We can cry together. Like I always say in this crazy journey, breastfeeding your kids is so difficult, but it's worth it. It is so worth it. But weaning? It's difficult too. Even more difficult, to be honest. But trust me. It's worth it. It's so worth it. Release yourself from the guilt, and be the mom your kids need you to be.